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April 6, 2003
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
JOHN GERDES: Good morning. Again we're joined by Coach Williams and the five starters for Kansas. We'll ask Coach Williams to make some opening comments, we'll open it up to questions to any of the gentlemen on the dais.
COACH WILLIAMS: I just spoke to you guys about half an hour ago after the game last night, so there's not a lot different I can say now (smiling). I did watch the game on tape. We played really well, but at the same time these are mature guys up here that understand what we did last night doesn't do anything for us on Monday night, other than the fact it gives you some confidence. It's not going to scare Syracuse, it's not going to get them to give us some points to start the game. We're extremely happy to be here. I'm extremely happy with these kids who have worked so hard for us. Other than that, can't say too much more than I said to you last night.
Q. Can you talk about the challenges presented by that Syracuse zone, maybe what you guys are going to be looking at in terms of trying to break that thing down?
KIRK HINRICH: I think we're just going to try to attack it. Obviously, they're real long, real athletic. That causes problems. Really active. Have to be strong with the ball, aggressive. I think still try to get the ball inside, then out.
KEITH LANGFORD: I think we'll try to spend a great deal of time trying to beat it down the floor, probably pick up the pressure on our defense a lot, try to get in the passing lanes, beat them down the floor. I know that they've been running it all year, so they're going to be pretty good at getting back into transition. We're probably going to have to crank it up a gear as far as getting into the transition offense.
COACH WILLIAMS: You guys understand, the team has no idea, we haven't given them any information whatsoever on Syracuse. If you ask them a question, they give you an answer, it could be 180 degrees from what the coaching staff thinks. They don't go out and watch the game last night. They went out after the game, said hello to their parents, went to the hotel and ate. We'll give them a scouting report at practice. If they say something, just understand it might not be exactly what happens.
Q. You obviously have strong senior leadership on this team. Could you discuss the importance of having the kind of experience that Nick and Kirk bring as you drive for a national championship.
COACH WILLIAMS: I think it is, you know, good to have. Needless to say, you'd rather have talent than anything. Experience would be second. If you could pick the best, it would be experience and talent. I think that's what we have. Early in the season when we were 3-3, brought them in after the Oregon game and we really made some strides in the Oregon game, but showed them some huge errors we were making. As Nick said last night, instead of pointing fingers at each other, the coaching staff or anything like that, they understood and trusted what we as a staff were trying to get them to see and believe in. I think they did. Keith and Aaron have been around for two full years now, too, but I think even that early in the season they still believed so much in Nick and Kirk because of everything that they had been through with me and our staff. They showed a great deal of confidence in us, bought into what we were trying to get them to understand. The respect that Keith and Aaron and Jeff and Michael Lee, all the guys have for Nick and Kirk I think is something that makes my job a heck of a lot easier.
Q. Your time with Coach Williams, it's been pretty extensive. I'm sure you have answered questions about how you would feel to be a part of a team that wins him a national championship with Kansas for the first time. Here you are on the eve of this thing possibly happening. Can you share with us what it would mean for you guys to not only win this title but to also help your coach get this thing that he has been seeking.
KIRK HINRICH: To explain what it would mean in words, to be able to accomplish this, I don't think I could do that. You know, it's something that we've been working for for four years now. You know, every year, it's been our dream, our goal. Now to be able to play in the national championship game, you know, it's unbelievable. We've worked so hard for it. You know, if we're able to win, it would be just remarkable and a great feeling.
NICK COLLISON: You know, I'd agree. I think it's just a dream everybody has to play. You don't need a lot of extra motivation. Also, you know, if we could get Coach his first championship, that would be huge, too. You know, everybody that's played here I think for the most part has had a great relationship with Coach Williams and the staff. You know, we'd help ourselves out a lot by winning the championship, but also to help those guys would be great.
Q. What has it been like for the four years for you to have been together, what you think of each other as players, your relationship, and what it means to culminate in the championship game?
KIRK HINRICH: I think Nick is a great player, because he is. But I've been playing with him for a while now. He does so many little things. He's so consistent. You know, he's a good friend. And first what does it mean to culminate in the championship? It's just a great feeling. You know, we just don't want to have the feeling of playing a national championship game, we want to win it.
NICK COLLISON: It's been a great four years here. Played in a great program with great teammates. You know, there's been a lot of great teammates I've played with. Me and Kirk have been close for a long time, really good friends. It would be the best way to go out, best way imaginable to go out, if we could get a win tomorrow night.
Q. Nick, following up on the senior/freshman angle, you guys are a team led by seniors, your opponents are a team led by a freshman. Are you comfortable with that? Do you think it makes a big difference?
NICK COLLISON: Not at this point. I think, you know, they've proven that they've beaten a lot of good teams with freshmen. They're a confident bunch. They're not intimidated by this scene at all. You know, it's just going to be a matter of who plays better. They've got an unbelievable amount of talent, a lot of difficult match-ups for us. We're confident if we play well, we'll have a chance to win. I think it's a matter of who plays better tomorrow night.
Q. Coach, wondering if you could talk about match-ups a little bit, who you might put on Anthony and also whether or not you might consider using a zone to slow down his one-on-one ability?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, we've played some zone this year, but mostly because of foul trouble. I'm not a very good zone coach. You know, I think Jimmy does a magnificent job coaching the zone. If you were to draw a line of all the coaches in America, he would be on the end as the best coaching zone, I would be on the opposite, I'd be the worst. I'm not being humble, I'm just being freaking truthful, because I hate it, okay? We're going to play man-to-man. If we go to zone, it's because we're in foul trouble. That's the way we played it. Talked to the kids yesterday, you know, at this point you dance with who brung you. I'm not going to try to out-smart anybody and try to go out there and play something we don't do nearly as well. We're going to play man-to-man. We do have some tremendously difficult match-ups. Carmelo is a tough match-up, Warrick is a tough match-up. We have some kids that are going to accept the challenge and we'll see what happens. Off the top of my head, you'd say Keith is going to get the start on Carmelo, but he has to get help from his teammates. You can't just focus on him because he's not the only one that can play. I think it's Kansas' team defense against Syracuse's team offense, just the opposite on the other end.
Q. As much as the players say how much they want to win it for you, how much would it mean to you to see Kirk and Nick go out with the national championship? Second of all, how happy are you personally that you stayed around to witness these guys grow as players and as young men?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, it would mean -- it's hard. Kirk said he really couldn't explain it. Neither can I. It would mean a great deal to me. As a coach you work for that your entire time you're in college basketball to reach the pinnacle. The fact that I would be able to do it with these kind of kids is really special. You know, sometimes you have very talented kids who you may not enjoy as much. Nick and Kirk, I can say that probably I've yelled at them on one hand in four years, the number of times would be less than five. When I do yell at them, I do it sometimes just to yell at them because I don't have to get on them very much. But it's been a wonderful, wonderful ride for me. Sometimes I get emotional and think about things. A true dream for me would be to stand over at the side and watch these kids celebrate, know that we did the ultimate. But at the same time we know we have a tremendous challenge here with Syracuse. Three years ago when I made the decision to stay, my players was the biggest reason, the fact that Kirk and Nick and Drew at that time had just finished their freshman year and I did want to continue coaching them, that was a big part of it. Being able to do it with these guys sitting up here would be -- you know, I have a good education. I got a master's degree. But it would be damn hard for me to explain how happy I would feel.
Q. Could you explain your relationship with Coach Boeheim and how it feels to be coaching against him, that one of you guys is going to get the ultimate prize there on Monday?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, that part is neat because I think Jimmy has even taken those bad sayings or criticisms longer than I have. I think both of us feel good about the relationships that we have with our players and what we've done. I don't think that he lays awake at night worrying about that. I don't think either one of us is going to jump off the tallest building Monday night if we don't win. Jimmy and I have played golf together. He's really a good, good golfer. He was a lot better before he got married this last time, had those little kids now, taken away some of his time. But I enjoy playing golf with him. We're on the NABC board together. We've been on committees together. You know, he's had the reputation, people used to call him a whiner or something like that. I think he's extremely bright. He thinks about things in the meetings we've had. I've been very lucky to be in there with him. He does think about what is good for the college game. I respect him a great deal. I respect him much more as a coach than most people would think, you know, because I think he had never gotten the recognition that he richly deserves, genuinely deserves. It's a guy I do have a great deal of respect for, enjoy playing golf with, been with him on a lot of occasions. Between him and PJ Carlesimo, they've tried to expand my vocabulary over the years. Sometimes I fall into that trap, take their coaching. Most of the time I've been able to keep my own vocabulary. But really a good guy.
Q. Does this team remind you at all of the '82 North Carolina team that brought Dean his first title? What do you remember about Dean and his reaction after he finally got that first one?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, I know as an assistant, I really wanted it for maybe the wrong reason. I wanted it just so all you guys, some of you weren't born then, the media would stop saying that Coach could never win the big one. It was his seventh Final Four. I thought he had to win a lot of big ones to get there. That wasn't going to determine to me whether or not he was a great coach. So at the end of the game, I had the relief I felt. I had big tears rolling down my face, happy and relieved that nobody would ever be able to say that again. That's when he made to me the famous quote. I said, "I'm glad so all those guys will have to think about something else to talk about you now." I'll never forget it. It's like last night. "I don't really think I'm that much better of a coach than I was two and a half hours ago." That really stuck with me for a long time. How this team compares, that was a team that at the start of the season was ranked No. 1, thought they were going to be great. I thought this team was going to be great. That team didn't have nearly as much adversity as this team has had. This team has overcome several bumps in the road, several obstacles. More of an ironman starting five, just like that team was. That team won the national championship with the starters scoring every point except one. One free throw scored by a guy off the bench. There were a lot of similarities. Again, you're talking about something that's 21 years ago. It was a great night: I enjoyed it.
Q. Coach just said he probably yelled at you guys maybe handful of times. What would be your estimate of that?
COACH WILLIAMS: (Laughter).
KIRK HINRICH: I think I probably got all five of them (smiling).
NICK COLLISON: I've taken a lot of heat for four years for not getting yelled at. You know, it's a good thing to take heat for, I guess.
COACH WILLIAMS: I'll expand on that a little bit. Nick's freshman year one time in a meeting, I was just after everybody. I said, "Why do you think I'm not yelling at him?" Pointed at him. One of the upperclassmen said, "Because he doesn't make as many mistakes." I said, "Really?"
Q. Going back to Dean Smith, do you think the fact you were around him so many of those years before he won his first championship, observing the way he would respond year after year falling short, has formed (inaudible) a little bit of the way you've been able to react to disappointments?
COACH WILLIAMS: I don't think there's any question in that. I watched the way Coach did everything. What we do coaching on the court is what I stole from him. I just think he's the best there's ever been on the court, and he's even better off the court than he is on. I tried to pattern everything that I do after the way Coach Smith did those things. There's some things that I told him I went the other direction. Coach Smith goes to every players' wedding everywhere. I tell him I only go to weddings if I can get in the car and drive an hour. He'll fly to Los Angeles, fly to Phoenix, fly to New York for the third marriage or something like that (laughter). It's one of the few things I've told him, I'm not copying everything. I do have the right to choose the ones that I think are good and bad. If you were to make a list of the things that I didn't copy from him, then the ones I did copy, that one list is extremely short, but that's one of them. You know, I saw the criticism he took. It hurt me as an assistant more than I thought it did him. I think he understood the big picture of the kids having the respect for him, what he was trying to do, how much he cared for them after they left the program, plus it was life. You know, you have to be able to handle disappointments. He had a wonderful family with young kids. I think he realized he saw the big picture a lot better than I did as a young assistant.
Q. Obviously, he's (Coach Boeheim) the best at coaching the zone. Can you be specific to why it's so difficult to play against? Are you impressed with the fact he gets kids to buy into it, to play it for their entire careers?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think the secret of coaching is getting kids to buy into what you want, that you convince them the way you're trying to play is the best for them and the best for your team's success. I think that is truly one of the secrets, if not the secret, in coaching, as long as it's fundamentally sound. The reason I think it's always been good, in some ways I think it's better this year than it's ever been because of the length of the athletes they have, they have big guys that can cover a lot of ground. NFL people talk about how a cornerback or a safety, how they close on somebody, take up that gap. I think that's the same thing that Syracuse does better than anybody. I came out last night and watched a few minutes of the game in the first half, Mouton has a wide-open shot from the corner as he's catching the pass. He is wide open. By the time he shoots it, it's not like one of you guys shooting it winding up or anything, he's got a decent release, by the time he shoots it, he almost got it blocked because they close on you so fast. I think the athletes, the length that they have, really makes it special. You've really got to move the ball crisply yourself. You have to really fake your passes. You've got to penetrate. You can't just stand and pass it around the horn and expect to get good shots against it. I think, again, he does a fantastic job of it. I'll tell you something that Nick -- I can't remember if it was Nick or Mark Randall, I've had two guys that have played on teams in the summer that Jimmy has coached. Nick can disagree that it wasn't him. Might have been Mark Randall a hundred years ago. Coach Boeheim didn't say anything. "Let's work on our zone defense." All of a sudden Jimmy perked up, the rest of that practice kind of thing. He does a better job of it I think than anybody in the country. It reminds me it's a different zone, but it reminds me of John Chaney at Temple, Jud Heathcote at Michigan State because he knows what he's doing.
Q. Can you talk about times in your careers when you've used Coach Williams as an example of not letting what people are saying about you, writing about you, get to you?
JEFF GRAVES: I would say just like, you know, I didn't pay attention to any of that. I had Coach right behind my back giving me all the confidence in the world. I appreciate that like to the dearest. He's a great coach. I have great teammates backing me too. We didn't take it as criticisms, we took it as positive and drove off that.
AARON MILES: Earlier in the season, all through the season, I've been taking a lot of criticism or whatever. But just seeing how Coach deals with it, don't let it get to him, don't let it affect him, showing that the only thing that matters is our teammates and our family sees us or whatever. That's helped me out a lot. Sometimes, you know, people can talk bad about you or whatever. But all that matters is how the people that's close to you, your family, really looks at you.
Q. Jeff, I look at the whole podium, you're the only one up there that wasn't here last year. What has this senior leadership meant to you over the season?
JEFF GRAVES: I think I just see like, you know, how much Kirk and Nick work real hard. It makes me want to go out there and work even harder. They've given me a lot of experience. They've given me a lot of I guess confidence and a lot of suggestions like what should I do, how to do it. I appreciate that. They just give me help throughout the season. Kind of overwhelming. Last year I wasn't up to this position. Right now I am. I'm just happy to be here.
Q. Roy, three years ago when you made the decision to come back to Kansas or stay at Kansas, you probably came back for this moment, to be in this game with these kids. I wonder, have you thought maybe that confirmed in your mind that you made the right choice and that Kansas is the definite place for Roy Williams?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, when I made that decision, you always have dreams, but that really didn't have -- this moment, thinking about this moment, had nothing to do with it. Greg Gurley, Scot Pollard, Rex Walters in the gym the week before, all of them had their children with them. Greg said, "How does it feel to have your grandchildren in the gym with you?" That was something that really hit me pretty hard at the time. That was the telling me that it was, you know, my guys. The loyalty that I felt towards them was what I was thinking of, not how successful we could be. That really had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Somebody, one of my good friends asked me last spring when Nick and Kirk decided to stay, not go to the NBA, they said, "What would you have done if they had left?" I said, "I'd have left with them." I don't know if it was just coaching them, because I would have been scared to death. But Jeff and Aaron and Keith, they would have had a big, big-time load on their shoulders there. It really wasn't. I didn't make the decision just thinking about winning a national championship. I made the decision because I thought it was the right thing to do. To me, it was a comfortable thing. I've never questioned that part of it. I've never looked back and said, "Boy, I'm glad I did that." It was a decision I made; it was one I was comfortable with.
Q. What were your thoughts when General Myers compared the coalition's strategy in Iraq with your game plan with Arizona? Did you take that as an endorsement by the Joint Chiefs of your team?
COACH WILLIAMS: I did not hear it myself. They got it to me quickly. I got several e-mails and faxes sent it to us. I saw it in the newspaper, as well. I was just stunned. I was very flattered. It was even more flattering when you realize he's a Kansas State graduate. That made it more flattering (smiling). I've said, I don't know that the General has ever heard, I said game plans are good for about the first six minutes, then you have to go by the seat of your pants. He was eloquent about it. I was flattered by it, to say the least. I hope that game plan works as well as ours did against Arizona.
Q. Keith, could you talk about the challenges of you're facing a player like Anthony? Have you faced anybody of his talent this year?
KEITH LANGFORD: I mean, I don't think I have. At the same time, the coaching staff, they gave me a whole set of situations, let me know how to play him, the best way to defend the different options that he has in the offense. I mean, I really don't have any comments. I don't know. There's not one way to stop a player like that. You can't say, "I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that." I mean, it has to be like a total effort. I'm sure I'll need some help from other teammates. We just have to really do a good job, myself on the ball, and some of the guys helping off the ball in case he (inaudible) up or something like that.
COACH WILLIAMS: CBS can pay the bills. You can leave the damn mics on, Jesus Christ. Wait a minute. I just want you to know when Keith answered that question, it was the most nervous I've been this morning (smiling). Those of you that have been around Keith, he does a good job. You guys like him sometimes. He says some wild stuff. The synopsis of what the coaching staff would give us, that was good.
Q. Did you hear from Dean last night to congratulate you on the phone?
COACH WILLIAMS: I talked to Coach last weekend and I haven't spoken to him since then. I know he was watching the game. I know he was watching the game. He was probably nervous.
JOHN GERDES: At this point we're going to let the starters go to the break-out rooms.
Q. Can you talk about how the underclassmen have matured this year?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think with Aaron and Keith particularly, because they played so much for us last year, they are experienced players as well. I think by the end of your freshman year, you are experienced. I don't think freshman at that time really go through freshman problems like they do early in the season. At this stage, I have sophomores, they are veterans. Keith has matured so much more in understanding the consistency of his effort, of how hard he has to play all the time. He's starting each and every week, understood better what he can do on the offensive backboards for us. He knows he really needs to work on his outside shot because he does such a great job of driving the ball to the basket. Aaron has had to follow up a truly sensational freshman year. I probably could have made it maybe more difficult for him because I said most kids improve the greatest, take the biggest leaps from the freshman to sophomore year. That was in some ways maybe harmful to say that about Aaron because he tries to live up to other's expectations more than he should. He's had a few ups and downs. But I think he's understanding that a heck of a lot better now, too. Number of assists he's had through his first two years in college were probably right up there with the top guys ever in college basketball. Both of them understand that over the course of their careers, they've got to do a better job shooting the ball from the outside. That's something they really will work on in the future. Michael Lee has matured, come along, really done some nice things for us, as well.
Q. With one day to prepare, coaches are always talking about how difficult it is. Isn't Syracuse preparing for basically the same thing they saw last night, whereas you're preparing for something totally different?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, I think that is very, very close to being fact. TJ Ford makes Texas play a little differently because they run to receive passes from him. You know, we probably pitch ahead a little bit more. Aaron doesn't dominate the ball quite as much as TJ does because we have Kirk, Keith, Nick, that are really good passers, too. Other than, that I'd say you're exactly right. I think the transition for us, the change that we've got to be prepared for tomorrow night, is more difficult, or at least more work, more thought process, than what they're going to have to do. Hopefully we'll be able to do it. Hopefully the experience of our players, as we've talked about, will help us, even though I think in some ways that's probably the most overplayed thing there is.
Q. Could you sort of analyze and assess the strengths and weaknesses of Coach Boeheim's golf game?
COACH WILLIAMS: Jimmy is a good player. He really has a nice swing. He's a much, much better long iron player than I am, a much more consistent player than I am. When he's playing well, it's a pretty game. Hits it on the fairway, knocks it on the green, 2-putts, get out of the way. My games a little more exciting, farther left, farther left, put it in a phone booth, see if I can get it up and down. The only putter I've played with in my life - I have it - I think can I get the ball in the hole. Jimmy, when he's playing well, he can handle anybody in the coaching profession anyway. We have a little deal we try to play at Pine Valley periodically, not together, I'll leave my scorecard for him, the caddies will give it to him when he gets there. He does the same thing for me. We're sort of a little unethical because I don't leave any of the bad scorecards. I'm sure he doesn't leave any of the bad scorecards for me.
Q. Obviously everybody wants to win the big game. What have you learned throughout the years about not winning the big game? What's your philosophy on that?
COACH WILLIAMS: The one thing I haven't learned, I'd like to see what the other half is like. I'd like to have that other experience so I can know if it's that much better than what you have when you lose. I think life, I talk to my kids all the time about, you know, what we're doing, the attention that you get, the mistakes you make, the ups and downs, that's what you're going to face in life, you have to be able to handle all of it. I think we've pretty well handled the fact that we have been here and lost, still been able to get up, smile, go on the next day. It's probably an understatement, but perhaps it makes you a little more hungry, to try to see what it is like on the other side. You know, I've had it great. I've had it great for 15 years. I've got players that respond to me, try to do what I ask them to do. For the most part, they get out and say good things about you. We have relationships that change a little bit after they play for me because it's not that much buddy-buddy at that time. I'd like to experience that other part and see what that is like, too.
Q. Any thoughts on the fact that Syracuse has beaten three Big-12 teams in the tournament, plus I believe they beat Missouri in the regular season?
COACH WILLIAMS: It means they beat the championship of the Big-12, I guess, because we lost twice. I did not even realize that until one of the commentators said it last night as I was watching the last few minutes of the Syracuse game. One year we played everybody in the Big-10, seemed like this year we played everybody in the PAC-10. We played Arizona, Arizona State, California, UCLA, Oregon. Maybe I'm leaving somebody else out there. I think it's just one of those weird things. But it also makes our kids have a great deal of respect for Syracuse, too.
Q. From what you've seen of Gerry McNamara's game, how would you assess it?
COACH WILLIAMS: Tough little kid. Heady basketball player. Great shooter. A guy that you really have to know where he is all the time, be able to get up on him because he can shoot it so well. Again, Jimmy's a friend. I've watched some of their games this year. He's made some big shots for them, won big games for them.
Q. Obviously a lot of people have gone away from the zone. Syracuse is really the only major team that plays it. How much more difficult is it to prepare for that?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think it's a very intelligent thing on Jimmy's part. If I were a high school football coach, I'd play the single wing right now because nobody ever plays it. It's a whole different preparation for the other team. I think Jimmy doing that I think does help them. But you got to coach with what you're comfortable with. I'd be comfortable coaching the single wing in football because I would probably fire. I coached high school football, I did double reverses, junk like that. I'm not comfortable coaching the zone. Jimmy is comfortable doing that. I think that's the beauty of it, that he's comfortable with it and he doesn't mind what other people say. I'm sure that people say, "Why do you play that old zone?" I would not be surprised if coaches didn't use that against him in recruiting. We don't recruit against him, I don't talk about other teams when we're recruiting anyway. "Why do you want to go to Syracuse, they stand there and play the zone, doesn't get you ready for the NBA?" I can hear people saying that kind of thing. Why mess with what you can do? He can coach that.
Q. You've been fortunate enough to be around a number of freshmen, see a number of others who have excelled on this stage. Where does Anthony appear to fit in with that group?
COACH WILLIAMS: Wow, you know, his game last night was phenomenal. Wish I could remember the exact -- my favorite football player of all time was Earl Campbell. Bum Phillips, I liked Bum. He was probably much different from me as a coach. They said, "Is he the best?" He said he doesn't know if he's best, but if he's in a class, it doesn't take long to call the roll." That's the way you feel about Carmelo. If I've ever seen a freshman do more in the NCAA tournament, the only thing that comes to mind is Pervis Ellison. I can't think of anybody else. I'm not even sure that Pervis did more. What Carmelo has done is just fantastic.
Q. You used Kirk a lot to guard top perimeter players. Carmelo starts out on the perimeter. Can he guard him or is he not big enough? Will he have to take a turn?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think you've got to give him different looks. We had a nice ballclub in '94, probably miss that, but we tried to play Glenn Robinson on the perimeter when we played Purdue. Lost to them in the third game in the NCAA tournament. Glenn Robinson was too big for us. I worry about that with Carmelo. Keith is a little bigger than Kirk, has a little longer arms. That's who we'll start on him. But he's got to be Kansas' team defense has to know where he is, what he's trying to do.
Q. You mentioned in the past that maybe earlier in your career you put more pressure on yourself to win the national title. What events, what was the process for you to maybe gain a little more perspective, put less pressure on yourself?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, I feel sorry for the Kansas guys because they get to hear these answers so much more than the rest of you. I apologize for being redundant. The '97 team. The '97 team. Fellows thinking of this, that team went 34-2. They had six seniors. All six graduated. Two of them were first team academic All-American, one of them was the academic All-American Player of the Year. We were 34-2. We lost at Missouri with the ball was knocked loose, one of their kids had the ball bounce through a teammate's legs, he picked it up and shot it in as the shot clock went off. That was the winning points of the game. The other loss was to Arizona in the Round of 16. We had the last three shots that could have tied it up. That was the only two blemishes on that team, yet we didn't make it to the Final Four. That one hurt for a long time. It still hurts. At that time, as I answered Jason's questions, a lot of times I do things because I think it's the right thing to do. That's the way I've tried to live my life. I thought it was just the right thing for those kids to get to a Final Four, perhaps win a national championship, too. I'm corny as all get-out, but I just thought that was the right thing. When it didn't happen, it just killed me because I knew I would hopefully have other opportunities, but I no Jacque and Jerod would not have those opportunities again. It made me over the course of that summer sit back, try to investigate myself, try to see if there was something I was doing wrong, see if my goals were right. That summer of thinking about it made me understand that all you can do is do the absolute best you can. Sometimes it's not going to work out whether you think it's right or not. Especially the NCAA tournament, because it's a crapshoot. The NBA is going to best-of-seven in the first round because they want the best teams to keep winning. Well, that's not what's great about the NCAA tournament. The ratings go up when the best teams don't win sometimes. I, at that time, decided that my No. 1 goal was going to be live long enough to coach my grandchildren in little league baseball and basketball. I don't have any grandchildren yet, so I'm going to coach a while.
Q. As long as you've wanted to win a national title, to get this close, with a team like this, playing so well at the end, can you describe how you feel about that?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's fantastic to have the kind of kids that are buying into what you want to do. But Syracuse's kids are buying into what Jimmy wants. Jimmy has been trying to win it as long or longer than I have. One of the problems, you've heard me say before, Kansas, we're not the only ones that have those feelings. We're not the only team that plays college basketball. We're not only -- not the only ones that think it's our divine right to have that happen. If Syracuse wins, I'm going to be just crushed. If you see somebody on top of one of these buildings, everybody standing on the pavement saying, "That's Roy. " It ain't Roy. If it's Roy, it ain't me. It's an impersonator.
Q. With all that Carmelo Anthony can do, what is the biggest challenge he presents for your team?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think keeping our guys out of foul trouble because the time-out situation, the stamina is not an issue once you get to this level. The only issue you have, if you don't have any depth, is foul problems or somebody turning an ankle. Depth is still a huge factor if those things happen. We've got to make sure we're able to guard him without getting anybody on our team in foul trouble.
Q. Can you talk about why you hate coaching the zone? Tell a little bit about your feelings when Dean Smith didn't win compared to the criticisms of you not winning, how different they are?
COACH WILLIAMS: Those are two pretty easy questions because the second one I never consider myself in the same breath with Coach Smith. I really don't. I mean, the criticism or praise or whatever, when you put Roy Williams and Dean Smith in the same paragraph, you know, I don't think it should be there. I've never really thought of me going through the same things that Coach did because I think -- I just think he was the best. It was just unfortunate, unlucky, whatever, that they didn't win it. First part of the question was going to be easy, too. So easy, I forgot what the first question was.
Q. Why you hate to coach the zone.
COACH WILLIAMS: Same reason I hate to hit shots out of the bunker. I'm not very good at it. You get me in the bunker, give me a terrible lie, no hope, I'll probably hit that one all right. You just give me a simple little lie, bunker, pin is right there, plenty of room, I don't do that very well. I don't coach the zone very well. My personality is I want to be a little more aggressive. I think, again, you feel comfortable doing something, it's easier to do. If you don't feel comfortable doing it, I think it's more difficult to do.
Q. In general terms, are the top freshmen not freshmen in a sense they were 20 or 30 years ago? If not, how far back do we date this transformation?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think that's a huge factor, that freshmen nowadays -- I'll give you this example. 25 years ago, when I started North Carolina, we used to talk about, during your four years, we're going to go to the West Coast, we're going to go to New York, we're going to take you to Hawaii. Now half the dadgum kids in the country, Top 50 kids, have already been to Hawaii, they've been all over the country. You say that, they say, "Long plane ride." Thaat's the way they look at it. The kids nowadays, I wish I had a better way to describe it, I'll say they're more worldly. They've had more experiences. They've been more places. Nick Collison, he's been around the world with USA Basketball, I think five different tours during his college career, but he went as a high school player. The day before I saw Kirk Hinrich play for the first time, he had just returned from Moscow, not the one in Idaho, I mean Moscow. I haven't been there. You're exactly right that freshmen are no longer freshmen, even when we start the year much less as this time of year during their careers. When it changed, I'm going to say, you know, 12 to 15 years ago when summer basketball just exploded. Again, 12 to 15 to 18 years ago. When I first started 25 years ago, you went to Five Star camp, BC camp, that was it. There was nothing else going on. Now these kids, I saw Nick Collison play like 12 games in the summer before his senior year in Las Vegas. That's a long way from Iowa Falls, Iowa. I think that's the biggest part of it right there.
Q. This season you have Steve Robinson back. What has that been like for you and him? What sort of adjustments need to be made?
COACH WILLIAMS: He's been fantastic for me. It's a security blanket. It's a true friend. It's a guy I know is extremely loyal. All those good things right there. But the fact that he's been a head coach and the experience he's gone through really makes everything easier. He says sometimes, because his office is the next one down from mine, he will consciously walk by the office and not stick his head in and say anything because he said he doesn't think anybody else that does. As a head coach, he would be wanting to get some work done, it was a constant stream of people stopping in his office. He knows that part of it. He looks at the big picture, whether it's recruiting, coaching, practice planning, looks at the big picture as opposed to just some area that he may have. So, as I said, it's been everything from a security blanket to the fact of going through everything, just makes it so much easier for him to give suggestions that I listen to immediately because I know he's been in those same footsteps himself.
Q. The first time you went to the final game, was it early enough in your career where you thought, "This is something I'll get a chance to do again quickly"? Could you have imagined that night it would have taken so long to get another opportunity to play in that game?
COACH WILLIAMS: I was naive because I thought, "We'll have these other opportunities." But I was not so naive that I thought it was going to be easy to get back to. I didn't think that by any means. One of the fun things is that morning, the morning of the national championship game, I'd gone for a jog, then I was supposed to do something with somebody in the media, I forget what it was, I ran into Jimmy Valvano. At that time he was working for one of the TV things. You know how hyper Jimmy was. I'm walking, I've got a cup of milk and a doughnut, walking down the street. He said, "Look at you. The day that I played for the national championship, I was putting clothes on backwards, I was doing everything. You're just freaking " -- he didn't say freaking, "You're walking around the street with milk and a doughnut." To me at that time I knew how difficult it was, but I did think that I'm going to coach a long time, hopefully I'll have a lot of opportunities. That stretch from '93 to 2002 was a long nine years, I can tell you that (smiling).
Q. You mentioned Michael Lee earlier. Has he exceeded your expectations of what he's done, especially down the stretch here?
COACH WILLIAMS: In some ways I think so because we had lost -- I'm very open about everything. We lost about three different kids, one to Duke that we wanted, one to Michigan State that we wanted, I can't remember who the third one was right now. I told our staff, we want a second guard prospect that can shoot the basketball. We always talk about a good package, if we can't find somebody great, who has a better overall package than Mike Lee? He's a wonderful kid, hard working kid, hard working student. How can you go wrong with taking that kind of kid? Who can be a better -- who can have a better package than Michael has? That's the way I approached it with his family. We lost three kids that we wanted. I'm sitting with my staff thinking, "Why don't we recruit you because you're the whole package?" At that time I told him it would be very difficult for him to play. But if he did what I thought he could do, took the coaching, the whole part, he could surprise a lot of people. I think he's done that. How quickly he's come this year, I don't mind saying it seems to surprise me a little bit. Since the Oregon game, he's had about two or three bad games, and the rest of the games he's really played well for us.
Q. Could you go back to when you were a kid.
COACH WILLIAMS: It's harder than it used to be (smiling).
Q. Could you explain how you felt about the NCAA as a kid, getting older, what particular memories you had of it before you got here.
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, it's strange because I'm not trying to act like I was deprived or anything like that as a kid, but we didn't even have a television till I was six years old. I didn't know too much about college basketball at all till about my junior year in high school, then I started thinking about where I wanted to go play. I never watched a NCAA tournament until I was a senior in high school. That was North Carolina in the Final Four. As a kid, I didn't have any thoughts because I didn't even realize that there was such a thing. Then when I got in college, as a student, then I really enjoyed watching the NCAA tournament and would change schedule and everything because I wasn't going to miss the Final Four. The pageantry of the thing I loved. I was a high school coach for five years. I'd never been to a Final Four. My first year at North Carolina as an assistant was '79. My next year was '80. I didn't go to the Final Four either time. '81, my third year as an assistant, I was 31 years old, first Final Four I ever went to. We lost to Indiana in the championship game in Philadelphia. I really didn't have a background of what it was like because I'd never been.
Q. Jim said last night the winner would have to give the loser strokes on the golf course next summer. What are your handicaps? Can you draw any analogies from the way you play golf, not very pretty, and the way you coach teams?
COACH WILLIAMS: You guys put a hell of a lot of thought in these things. Coach Smith has 17 swing thoughts when he plays. I tell him I just stare at the ball and swing, that kind of thing. My handicap last summer, at the end of the summer, it was a 4. The lowest it's ever been is a 3. I think Jimmy probably has had his handicap to a 1 or 2 sometimes. I think the last couple of years, again with the family, the young family that he just absolutely loves, I think it's made him a heck of a lot younger, too, his handicap probably hasn't been as low because he just hasn't played as much. You know, there could be some of that. He really has a great swing, he really does. Mine is not that pretty. On the green, I can putt the sucker about as good as a lot of people. I guess there is something to that. If you look pretty ugly, you still got to try to get it in the hole in the fewest number of strokes. Sometimes my game can be pretty ugly.
Q. Last night your transition game was able to beat Marquette down the floor. Going against a zone team, is it more critical to get the ball down the court, not let them get into what they want to do?
COACH WILLIAMS: We've got to do what we've done. I can't change and don't want to change. We're going to try to push the ball and see if we can get it down the court, hopefully score some baskets before they set their defense, whether it's man-to-man or zone. I'm sure they're going to do a better job than anybody else because they faced it all year. My guess is that's what Connecticut tries to do to them, the other teams in the Big East, to get easy basket before they get their zone set up. I think that is an advantage for them, that they've played against our style much more than we've played against their style.
Q. Goodnaturedly meant question. Do you predict, win or lose, you'll cry tomorrow, given the closeness of your relationship with Kirk and Nick? Will this be as emotional an experience as you probably have had?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think so. I've been criticized a great deal because of the tears at the end of it. I would hate to think that my son played for somebody that didn't care. I do deeply care. It's never really bothered me. The people that have criticized me have never been tough enough to stand up and criticize me to my face, because I don't mind that kind of confrontation. I grew up in western North Carolina with the hillbillies. We don't mind that kind of thing. If we win, I've made a pact that I'm going to be happy and not just tears of happiness. But if we lose, I know I'm going to have those tears because it's two kids particularly that have been a huge part of my life for four years. Again, four years ago, five years ago, restored my faith in college recruiting can be done the right way with good families. They mean more to me than just a lot of wins. They mean more to me than just a lot of smiles and happy times. They restored my faith in college basketball, the recruiting aspect of it. Those kids are extremely important, but I got emotional the other night when I was introducing Coach Holladay at the salute dinner because of the fact that his son Matthew is over in Iraq right now and it scares me to death. I'm probably just too emotional, but can I live with it.
Q. Could you explain the difficulty of the decision to shut down Wayne after the second injury, what you have been able to do as a team, from your own standpoint, to be able to get the team through that and to this point?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, that was a difficult time for me as a coach because I still -- Wayne was only shooting 65 percent, averaging 16 a game. Can you go around the country, people that have better numbers than that, there's not many of them. The other thing he did in addition to the actual producing is that Nick's numbers were so much better, then also because they weren't double-teaming Nick all the time. Jeff Graves has done a really, really good job for us, but they don't fear him scoring-wise. They leave him alone and double-team Nick. It makes it harder on Nick. Plus the fact that if you have Wayne, you still have Jeff, too. The depth question is not nearly the question it is now. With the kids, again, I said earlier it's part of life that you have to be able to handle adversity and things aren't going to go smoothly all the time. It's my job. We've got to play. Everybody has to do their thing and have to do it together. Jeff has to accept more responsibility and be more dependable. I think that he's responded well. You can't just give in because you have a bad day. You can't just give in because, again, '97, I mean, I thought it was the right thing for that team to win the whole thing, at least get to a Final Four. It was a huge learning experience for me because it doesn't always work out. Hey, it might not work out tomorrow night. I understand that. I think you've got to try to get kids to understand you can still give 100%. I've never been 110%, 120% junk. There's only 100. I tell my guys, "Give me everything you have mentally and physically, and let's see what happens." That was the challenge for the team. I think they've really done it well. They love Wayne so much, because you can't be a better kid than he is. We'd love to have him.
Q. Do you think three years ago, if you had already won a national title at Kansas, you might have made a different decision? If you win one tomorrow night, will there be any thought, "I've completed my mission at Kansas"?
COACH WILLIAMS: I never went through that thought process the other time, and I haven't gone through the thought process at all this time. I mean, again, what's amazing, I've had so many of you guys come up to me and say, "Coach, the way you're handling that is great." If you can't understand that, you ought to tell them to take a flying leap. I'm sure some of you feel I'm not handling it the right way. With me, that process is so far out of my mind right now, it's like that real smooth lie in the bunker: i don't want to think about that right now. If we had already won the title, the first part of your question, I think I still would have made the same decision, I really do. I thought it was the right thing.
Q. You obviously have some great memories of being here in '82. If you could share a few memories of '93 and '99. Does this building owe you one?
COACH WILLIAMS: I hope so. I'll tell you how silly I am. I know this press conference is dadgum long, I got to give you something different. In '82, I got in the habit, a guy gave me a candy bar. I left it in the locker room. We lost at home to Wake Forest. He said before the game -- after the game, "Man, I ain't ever giving you a candy bar again." I said to myself, "I didn't even eat it, take it or anything." The next game I got the candy bar myself, put it in the pocket. I ate it. We won. It's silly. I mean, damn, guys, as a coach, there's not a lot you can control. I go through the process of doing that every game. We get here, we're playing Georgetown for the national championship. I'd not gotten a candy bar at the hotel. I come here, get in. Security wasn't quite as tough then as it is now. They didn't sell candy at the Superdome. Folks, I'm telling you, 1982, there was not a candy bar for sale in this building. I was about to panic. So I go to the gate, talk to the person at that gate to let me go out. I go across the street, buy a candy bar. I come back. That person at that gate had moved to another gate. I got no credential, no ticket, I got nothing. I turned on the southern charm and talked my rear-end off. I got back in the building. I was frightened. I thought this is going to be a heck of a note. We're going to win the national championship. I'm going to walk outside, sit with the street people, watch the game, this kind of thing. That's a memory of '82. Worked out really well. You know, '93, we played well, but we couldn't get anything inside against North Carolina and couldn't stop them. So we lose the game. You know, staying two nights later, watching them win the national championship. My high school coach, also a North Carolina graduate, sitting in front of me, got him to stay. It was a great feeling to go over and visit with Coach Smith after the game, just the satisfaction that he had, I'll always remember that moment. '99, the funniest thing is we had won the Big-12 conference tournament, watching the pairings show. Lester Earl talking about, "We're going to New Orleans, we're going to New Orleans." They showed it up at the screen that we were coming into New Orleans for the first and second round. He was excited, standing up screaming, "Yes, yes. " Got down here, they booed his butt every time he touched the ball. Lester, why the dickens did you want to come down here? Heck of a game. We lost the game to Kentucky in overtime. I think we were the sixth seed at that time, they were the third seed. Wayne Turner goes through and lays it up and misses it with 22 seconds to play, we had a 3-point lead. We didn't get the rebound. Threw it back out, Scot Padgett gets a 3. If he makes the lay-up, gets it out of bounds, we have the lead. You can tell this press conference is deteriorating enough to go over stories about getting candy bars.
Q. Coach, while you've been at Kansas, you've had a couple of dynamic duos. These two seniors this year, can you talk about their uniqueness?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, it's more similar to Jacque and Jerod because it's hard for me to even say Nick without saying Nick and Kirk, or Kirk without saying Kirk and Nick. That's the way it was with Jacque and Jerod. The other guys were fantastic, too. The fact those two are coach's sons, they've understood the big picture from day one better than any duo that I've ever had. You know, we win last week in Anaheim. The first night we beat Duke, Nick was fantastic, and Kirk was just as excited as he could be, deep down inside ticked off, because he knew he had to play better. A few nights later we beat Arizona. Kirk was sensational. Nick was just as excited and happy as he could be. He knew deep down inside, by golly, he wanted to play better. Nick said it best. He sat at that dining room table and listened to his dad talk about not caring, not working hard, being concerned about the team. He never wanted any coach to talk about him that way. I think that shows a lot of maturity even as a young kid for him to have those thoughts. These guys, you know, they're going to graduate this spring, in four years. It's not going to be extra program. They're both going to graduate. That's the reason. People don't believe me. If we don't win it, God almighty, I'm going to consider myself an awfully lucky person.
Q. Can you talk about Syracuse's other forward, the problem he presents, Hakim?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think the problems that he presents first is that he is so gifted athletically, that makes it a difficult match-up for anybody. He can block shots, can he get the ball to the rim from distances. He can take one step, one dribble, and cover, you know, 12 to 14 feet. It's a tough match-up because Carmelo Anthony gets so much attention, yet Carmelo penetrates, he has his head up, he's such a good passer, he makes those guys other better players, too. Warrick finishes good, as good as anybody because he has the long arms and jumping ability that can dunk anything close to the basket. Again, you can't just be concerned about Carmelo. You have to play their whole team, guys coming off the bench, as well.
Q. Who are you going to be putting on Warrick?
COACH WILLIAMS: Again, my staff right now is putting together the clips that we want to show the team. It will either be Nick or Jeff. Don't have to be a nuclear physicist to figure that out. We'll try to get together with the team this afternoon. We'll do some things in our practice session today to show them what Syracuse does, realizing that you can't prepare for somebody that's this different in a one-day period. I do say that I think the experience factor is the most overplayed factor, but hopefully it will help us in that area.
Q. Anything at all to be gleaned from that 2001 meeting with Syracuse? What were your memories of the '96 loss?
COACH WILLIAMS: '96 team of Syracuse reminds me of this team because they were so long and covered the ground so well in the zone. It was a tough, tough loss for us in Denver, the chance to go to the Final Four. They played better than we played. 2000 or 2001, whichever it was, we played well that day. It was a little bit like yesterday that we just got the break going. They were missing some shots. We'd score again. That was a day that we were able to get back and get some good shots before they actually got the zone set up. Again then, Boschee made a lot of shots that day. We had Boschee and Kirk both. They made several shots. We did a nice job on the backboard, as well. I think the biggest key in that time is that we were so into it mentally from the first possession of the game, very similar to yesterday.
Q. You talked about loyalty as being one of the qualities that you really prize in yourself and others. Where did you learn loyalty? Who taught you loyalty?
COACH WILLIAMS: Well, my mother. I've said my high school basketball coach was the most influential person to me growing up, but my mother was my hero. She was a very intelligent, uneducated lady. Went through the 10th grade is all she did. She's the one that always said, "Do what you think is right." I know that sounds corny, doesn't make good copy, but that was a big deal to her. She if somebody was her friend, she would do anything, anything, to help them, was always the first person to ask if they needed anything. She didn't have anything, but she was always the first to see if they did. I just appreciated at that time the loyalty that she felt to her friends and family, the sacrifices I saw her make. Again, I'm not trying to be dramatic or anything like that, but that was big for me. My high school coach and Coach Smith, both are two other tremendous influences.
Q. The two freshmen that have had the most success are North Carolina's Rashad McCants and (Florida's) Matt Walsh. Both were in the NIT in New York City. Those were two games that Kirk Hinrich was suffering from a back injury. Is that a coincidence?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, I don't think so. At the time we can say Kirk's back was really bothering him, Wayne's ankle was really bothering him, that's the reason we got our butts beat. Bottom line, that's making excuses. I think Kirk is as good a perimeter defender as I've ever coached. 15 years at Kansas, 10 years as an assistant. He has no holes in his defensive game. He can slide his feet, he has the length to bother the jump shots, can he get around screens. He wasn't as healthy during that time period. But, you know, I wish he were about three inches taller because I'd feel a heck after lot better with my chances with Carmelo if we were taller. That's what worries you about guarding him. You could do a great job. Dwyane Wade drove the ball to the basketball, pulled up 45 degree angle, Kirk was right in front of him. Dwyane Wade is 6'4". Kirk really bothered his shot. Whether or not he can do that, you know, the worry part comes from we lose at Colorado because Mike Lee was defending Stephane Pelle. He jumped up (inaudible) (inaudible). It's amazing how gifted players, once they get in the NBA, if he's two inches taller, he feels like can he score over that other guy every possession, with the size advantage in the match-up. That's a little bit the way Carmelo is.
Q. When coaches get together and just talk, shoot the breeze, are you equally as fascinated with winning the national championship when coaches talk about it?
COACH WILLIAMS: No, really not. Jimmy and I were on a conference call Monday. One thing is, if we both make it to the championship game, one of us is going to get those people off our back about that subject. That's about it with us. I think in coaching, as long as Jimmy has done it, I haven't done it nearly as long as he has, you appreciate how hard it is to be successful in the regular season or in the conference tournament or throughout the course of the year, just to get to a Final Four. Whether or not other people think that you have to have one little piece to legitimize yourself, I don't think coaches ever think about those kind of things. I think you have the dream, you think about that part. A really good friend that I have in coaching is Gene Keady. That boy can coach his bunkers off. He hasn't made it to a Final Four. I want him to because he owes me a couple of tickets. I took care of him, we made the agreement. He can coach his rear-end off. Norm Stewart won 700 games, never made it to a Final Four. Louie Carnesecca never won a championship. I can go on and on and on. I think coaches understand that more than the typical fan or someone else. I don't think that we look at a guy differently because he did win a national championship or because he didn't.
Q. Maryland won it all last year with the two outstanding seniors. You're in that position. Looking down the road, do you think senior leadership will continue to be important or do you think it's more likely we'll see teams like Syracuse with younger dominating squads in this position?
COACH WILLIAMS: I think it goes in cycles. The "Fabulous Five" went two years in a row and they had no experience on that, but they were extremely talented. Lately it has been important, the teams that have won it have had those senior leaders who were big-time players for their team. Again, I think it's probably overplayed. It's simplifying it too much. I think it depends. Texas made the Final Four, had no seniors on their team with the exception of Deginald Erskin who has been hurt almost the whole year. You have to have talent. Somebody said three of the first team Associated Press All-Americans were playing here. I think talent is the biggest thing.
Q. You gave a little story about '82. This building has had some memorable, even bizarre moments in championship games. Is there an aura or mystique about this place that you think lends itself to crazy things happening late in games? Do you think the potential is there for something bizarre given the makeup of both squads to happen tomorrow night?
COACH WILLIAMS: You know, I've never been one to think buildings really did determine outcomes. People sitting in stands, how loudly they cheer, at home, that really helps you, things like that. We have that beware-of-the-Phog thing when you come to Allen Fieldhouse. Didn't bother Arizona very much this year when they went from 20 down to 17 up against us, whatever it was. I'd have to think. We make the last shot, their guy decides to throw the ball to James (Worthy). Keith Smart makes the last shot. Chris Webber. We had a play the other night in our game against Arizona where Kirk jumped up in the air, the officials didn't call walking. The other official decided, "We should have called that walking." He comes running in, they call walking. If they had done that in this building in '93, Chris Webber wouldn't have gotten nearly as much crap as he ended up getting. He walked in the back court. They should have waited till he got in the front court, the referee blows the whistle, "We should have called it back there." The kid never would have taken the crap for taking the time-out. I had to get in that little dig at the officials (smiling). I thought they should have made up some more of those that I didn't like. There have been some big-time shots in here is the way I look at it as opposed to weird things. Big-time shots some kids have made.
JOHN GERDES: Thank you, Coach Williams. Good luck Monday night.
COACH WILLIAMS: Thank you.
End of FastScripts...